76ers rookie Nerlens Noel cleared

The Philadelphia 76ers have cleared rookie center Nerlens Noel for "limited on-court work," but several benchmarks remain before he can return to game action, the team announced Wednesday night.

"After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens' representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work," 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement.

"There are several benchmarks Nerlens still must meet, and during that time we will closely monitor his progress and regularly evaluate his status. Our goal remains the same, which is to give Nerlens every opportunity to ensure a long, productive NBA career."

Noel, who suffered a torn ACL in February while playing for Kentucky, visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida last week.

"He is doing excellent, and the team is taking good care of him," Andrews told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Andrews said he was unable to provide more information because of privacy laws, but sources told ESPN.com that Noel, the No. 6 pick in this past June's NBA draft, could return to game action within the next four to six weeks barring a setback.

"He tested really well, and his knee looks great," one source said. "Dr. Andrews suggested he be cleared to do on-court drills, but the team still has to clear him."

CSNPhilly.com reported that Noel was seen playing one-on-one against assistant coach and former NBA big man Greg Foster on Tuesday.

How quickly the Sixers are prepared to get Noel back on the floor remains to be seen. First-year Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said in October that Noel's progress is "slow" and "everybody doubts he is going to play this year," but later softened those comments to leave open the possibility of Noel's return.

Widely assumed to be prioritizing its lottery position above anything else this season, Philadelphia started a surprising 3-0 without Noel. But the Sixers, apart from a recent four-game winning streak, have struggled mightily since and are in last place in the Atlantic Division (12-25).

Even so, they are just 3½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference.